Final: Celtics 88, Heat 80. It wasn't easy, but against a team this good, it shouldn't be. The Celtics have survived with an 88-80 victory over the Miami Heat in their season opener, claiming at least for now the status of Eastern Conference top dog.
Ray Allen comes up with a big 3-pointer in the final minute to seal the deal, closing out a Heat team that fought back from a double-digit deficit and refused to die quietly.
Allen finishes with a team-high 20 points, while Paul Pierce contributes 19. Rajon Rondo kicks in 17 assists to quarterback the Celtics' offense to victory.
LeBron James gives a titanic effort in defeat, putting up 31 points but coming up short as his supporting cast fails to come through.
After a game like this, you have to wonder why LeBron bothered to leave Cleveland.
But then again, this game is just one of 82. The Celtics hit the road Wednesday night to take on the Cavaliers, while the Heat take on the 76ers at the tail end of their own back-to-back. One game is in the books, but the marathon continues.
Fourth quarter, 27.4 seconds, Celtics 88-80: Pierce hits two free throws. That should ice it.
Is it time for Gino? Maybe. Just maybe.
Fourth quarter, 49.8 seconds, Celtics 86-80: Now the Celtics are back in the driver's seat. Ray Allen hits the biggest shot of the game, a beautiful corner 3 to push the C's lead back to six. The Heat have called a timeout. They're now in serious trouble.
Ray's stat line tonight: 7-of-13 from the field, 5-of-8 from 3-point range, 20 points. He's been there every time the C's have needed a big shot.
Perhaps now, he's put the game away. But don't expect the Heat to die quietly.
Fourth quarter, 1:10, Celtics 83-80: Hold your horses — this game is far from over.
The Celtics get back-to-back buckets from Wade and James, propelling them back into the game. The C's retain the ball and the lead, but it's now a one-possession game. They're on thin ice.
Fourth quarter, 1:37, Celtics 83-75: The Celtics are closing in on a tremendous season-opening win. Kevin Garnett draws another foul from Chris Bosh, and the C's have the ball with a chance to renew their double-digit lead.
Give the C's credit — they brought a solid defensive effort to shut down Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh tonight. It looks like that might be enough to win.
Fourth quarter, 2:48, Celtics 83-72: The Celtics may not be getting cocky just yet, but their fans sure are. The "overrated" chant is underway at the TD Garden, as Boston clearly doesn't appreciate the new South Beach supersquad.
It's important to bear in mind that no matter what happens in this one, it's only one game. No team can be written off at 0-1.
Fourth quarter, 4:38, Celtics 81-70: For all the talk about Dwyane Wade being a great closer, this fourth quarter has belonged to Paul Pierce so far. The Celtics' captain has piled up nine points in the period, opening the Boston lead back to double digits.
It's still going to take a solid defensive effort for the C's to hold on. They'd better not get cocky.
Fourth quarter, 6:01, Celtics 75-66: KG drains a nice 17-footer to push the lead back to nine. The C's aren't about to give up this lead without a fight.
Those long twos from KG always look like such terrible shots, and yet they keep going in. They've been Garnett's bread and butter for the last two years.
Settling for jumpers in the fourth quarter was a death sentence for the Celtics against good teams last year. But so far in this one, it's working. Knock on wood, C's fans.
Fourth quarter, 7:23, Celtics 73-64: Paul Pierce knocks down a deadly 26-footer, launching the Garden into hysterics and prompting Erik Spoelstra to call a much-needed timeout.
Pierce now has 11 points.
Rondo has 17 assists.
The Heat can't keep up unless Bosh and/or Wade turns it on.
Fourth quarter, 8:21, Celtics 68-61: Never, ever, ever doubt Glen Davis' ability to be the fourth-quarter energy guy. Big Baby comes up with a big slam dunk off a Rondo assist, and the Celtics are back up by seven.
Side note: Rondo now has 15 assists and three turnovers. Not too shabby.
Fourth quarter, 9:50, Celtics 64-59: Good news for the Celtics: Paul Pierce is back in the game. Bad news for the Celtics: Udonis Haslem has cut the Boston lead to five.
With Wade and Bosh struggling, Erik Spoelstra has gotten the Heat to trust their supporting cast around the big three. Haslem and Eddie House have each made nice contributions to the Heat comeback.
They've still got a ways to go, though. Pierce's presence will no doubt make things tougher for the streaking Heat.
Fourth quarter, 11:03, Celtics 63-57: Paul Pierce is suffering from back spasms, but he's back on the Celtics' bench at the start of the fourth quarter. We shall see if Doc puts him back in the game, though.
Right now, the C's are sticking with Marquis Daniels in the small forward spot, which might be a liability defensively. Stopping LeBron is a Hercluean task right now.
End of third quarter, Celtics 63-57: Well, you had to expect the Heat would try to make a run. LeBron James has come to life, and Miami is hot on the comeback trail now.
The Heat close the quarter on a 9-1 run, with LeBron scoring seven of the nine himself. King James turns in a monster quarter, and he now has 25 points, four rebounds and two assists for the game.
Looks like the C's are hurting without Paul Pierce's defense. They'll need to come out with renewed defensive intensity in the fourth quarter to hold on, with or without Pierce.
Third quarter, 2:02, Celtics 63-50: Paul Pierce has left the Celtics' bench, headed for the locker room. Looks like Marquis Daniels might get a more extended run in this one than we thought.
It's up to Daniels to maintain the shut-down defense on LeBron James. That's a mighty tall order, but the C's need their backup swingman to come through. If LeBron goes on a run here, Boston is in trouble.
Third quarter, 3:53, Celtics 58-45: Paul Pierce comes out of the game after a hard collision with LeBron James. The Garden fans are up in arms that the call is a Pierce block, not a LeBron charge; the C's are more concerned with making sure their captain's OK.
Looks like Pierce got the wind knocked out of him a little bit, but he'll probably be all right.
Marquis Daniels checks into the game in Pierce's place. Daniels has been playing great this preseason, and he's got a chance to play extended minutes now if Pierce continues to sit.
Third quarter, 5:35, Celtics 55-40: You might see a lot of stat lines like this from Rajon Rondo this season: two points, three rebounds, 12 assists, two steals. When you've got this many weapons in your arsenal, you don't need to carry the scoring load yourself.
What stands about Rondo tonight is his efficiency — 12 assists, only one turnover. If only he could bring the same efficiency to his shooting — he's 1-for-5 from the field, with his only make being a layup in the opening minutes.
Third quarter, 6:41, Celtics 55-38: The offense is starting to pick up a little bit in the third quarter, with both LeBron James and Kevin Garnett finding their jump shots. But if the Heat are to come back in this one, LeBron needs a lot of help.
Dwyane Wade is 2-for-10 from the field in this game. Chris Bosh is 2-for-9. LeBron will do everything in his power to keep the Heat close, but he needs his teammates to turn it on. Right now, the Celtics' defense isn't giving them anything easy.
Third quarter, 9:29, Celtics 50-32: Another 3 from Ray Allen. Every time you think the Heat might make a run, Ray comes up with a huge jumper to bury them again.
Ray now has 14 points on 5-of-9 shooting. The Heat may have some dynamite scorers on their roster, but they haven't yet shown the pure shooting ability that Ray gives the C's every night. That's a huge edge for Boston.
Halftime, Celtics 45-30: Doc Rivers couldn't have scripted a better first half if he tried. The Celtics have manhandled the Miami Heat for the first 24 minutes of their "new Big Three" era, opening a 15-point lead at the break by establishing their dominating defensive presence from the very start.
The Heat finish the first half shooting a meager 26.8 percent from the field; the Celtics check in at 44.7 percent, thanks in large part to superior ball movement and unselfish play.
Ray Allen leads the way for the Celtics with 11 points, followed by a solid all-around effort in the first half from Paul Pierce — eight points, five rebounds, two assists.
As expected, LeBron James is getting the job done for the Heat. He's got 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting.
Second quarter, 2:13, Celtics 41-22: Ladies and gentlemen, savor it while it lasts: Shaquille O'Neal is a 100 percent free throw shooter as a Boston Celtic.
Shaq gets hacked by Udonis Haslem here, and he gets to the line and drains two freebies. He now has six points for the C's, who lead the Heat by 19 with halftime approaching.
You know things are going well when even Hack-a-Shaq can't stop you.
Second quarter, 3:52, Celtics 38-20: Ray Allen may have must made the 3 that broke the Heat's backs. The Celtics now have an 18-point lead in the second quarter. This is unreal.
Ray now has 10 points despite a slow start from beyond the 3-point arc. The Celtics are looking to run away with this thing.
LeBron, Wade and Bosh now have a combined 14 points. That's a start, but it won't be nearly enough against this Celtics team. The C's are communicating, moving, and working as a team to slow down the Heat's big three. So far, it's working.
Second quarter, 6:25, Celtics 31-15: The Heat are in complete disarray, and the TD Garden is booming. The C's have a 16-point lead. They're more than doubling up on the Heat.
Kevin Garnett just picked off a Dwyane Wade pass in transition and winged it cross-court to Nate Robinson for a wide-open layup. The C's are cruising. The Heat are stumbling.
It's a 10-2 Boston run here in the second quarter. LeBron, Wade and Bosh are all on the floor for Miami, but none of them can get anything going.
Second quarter, 8:23, Celtics 25-13: The Celtics have started running and gunning — ironically, with two of their slower players dominating the fast-break action.
Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels have each driven home a transition layup here in the second quarter, widening the Boston lead from eight to 12.
Daniels, Jermaine O'Neal and even the undersized Big Baby have looked like fantastic defenders off the bench so far. The C's have a double-digit lead, and it's been a total team effort.
Second quarter, 9:51, Celtics 21-13: Paul Pierce is on the floor with the Celtics' second unit, and this lineup seems a bit laxer defensively. The Heat are starting to break through for transition buckets, and the Celtics look too slow to stop them.
Once Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett retake the floor, though, expect the C's to get back to their shut-down ways.
End of first quarter, Celtics 16-9: It's either great defense, terrible first-game jitters, or perhaps some combination of the two. But in any event, the Celtics and Heat have completed a remarkably low-scoring first quarter.
Ray Allen leads the way for the Celtics with five points, but even he is shooting a lackluster 2-of-6 from the field. Shaquille O'Neal has chipped in four points and Paul Pierce three for Boston.
LeBron James has scored four points, but he's had to work incredibly hard for even that. The C's defense is clamping down.
First quarter, 2:58, Celtics 14-8: It's been a miserable first quarter for the Heat offensively — they're now shooting 4-of-14 from the floor as a team, or 28.6 percent. Only LeBron has scored multiple baskets for Miami.
The Celtics' defense came ready to play tonight. They're refusing to give open looks to LeBron or D-Wade — the only guy getting clean shots off is James Jones, and he's doing nothing but brick wide-open 3s.
It is of course still early, but so far the Celtics have the Heat right where they want them.
First quarter, 5:20, Celtics 11-6: Doc Rivers said before the game that Shaquille O'Neal wasn't likely to go more than five minutes at a time. As it turns out, he starts the game with six-plus.
Glen Davis is the first man off the bench for Boston. The C's will need him to shine as a bench scorer against a Heat frontcourt that's weak defensively.
The Celtics' other four starters are still going strong. Looks like Doc expects big minutes out of his Big Four.
First quarter, 6:39, Celtics 9-4: So far, the Heat have absolutely no clue what to do about Shaquille O'Neal.
Joel Anthony just looks completely lost out there. It's almost like Shaq is a 15-time All-Star and he's a complete scrub.
Shaq has four points so far, on two easy dunks. Early lead for Boston.
First quarter, 9:10, Heat 2-0: First impression: Both teams have been absolutely airtight defensively. Dribble penetration just isn't happening, for either team — everyone's a jump shooter, and so far LeBron James is the only guy to make one.
Chris Bosh just shoved Rajon Rondo to the floor in mid-fast-break, then thrust his hands up in exasperation with the "what did I do?" look. OK, Chris. You can run the pick and roll, but you can't act.
First quarter, 11:39, 0-0: The 2010-11 NBA season is underway. Already, Shaquille O'Neal has his first Boston miss and Chris Bosh, his first Miami rebound.
The house is packed and ready for a bloodbath. No matter what happens, this game's going to be a thriller.
7:30 p.m.: As expected, the Miami Heat are introduced at the TD Garden to raucous boos — loudest of all, of course, for LeBron James.
The Garden fans are treated to a montage of 2010 postseason highlights before their starting five — Shaquille O'Neal, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — is unveiled.
It's time for action, folks. The most anticipated NBA season opener — perhaps ever? — tips off in just a moment.
6:50 p.m.: Here are a few pregame notes to tide you over until game time…
-Shaquille O'Neal will indeed be starting for the Celtics, relegating Jermaine O'Neal to the bench.
-Doc Rivers noted, however, that Glen Davis would ultimately end up playing more minutes than either of the O'Neals. He said to expect Big Baby at center for parts of the game.
-Change of plans: No Luke Harangody on the active roster for game one. Semih Erden will be the Celtics' 11th man instead.
-LeBron James talked about "doing what's best for himself" in his new Nike ad. Imagine that.
-LeBron also noted that as he walked off the court after Game 6 last year, he never envisioned it being his last game in a Cleveland uniform. So he says, anyway. Take it with a grain of salt.
5:50 p.m.: Welcome to the TD Garden, where a veritable media throng has gathered to witness history. The Celtics and Heat are less than two hours away from tipping off the most anticipated NBA season in memory.
Check in later for updates on both teams and their starting lineups — Shaquille O'Neal is expected to start for the Celtics in their season opener, and we'll have reaction from both coaches coming up.
Stay tuned all night. It's going to be a memorable one.
1:30 p.m.: Both coaches have announced their active rosters for Tuesday night's opener, and there are a couple surprises.
Doc Rivers and Erik Spoelstra are each carrying full 15-man rosters, meaning three players on each team will be inactive. For the C's, the surprise is that Semih Erden will be benched, just one day after Doc Rivers pledged to the media that Erden would suit up. Erden joins the injured Kendrick Perkins and Avery Bradley as inactive Celtics.
For the Heat, the injured Mike Miller and Dexter Pittman will be joined on the sidelines by — surprise. Mario Chalmers. Spoelstra will be without his second point guard, meaning you can expect big minutes from Miami starter Carlos Arroyo.
In addition, the Celtics will be without Delonte West, who is forced to fill an active roster spot throughout his 10-game suspension. The C's will be only 11 deep for Tuesday's opener.
8 a.m.: Less than four months ago, LeBron James stood before Jim Gray and a national television audience of millions to announce he was taking his talents to South Beach.
But first, we'll have to see if his talents can survive Boston.
The retooled Miami Heat have drawn a daunting opening night opponent as they unveil their new big three of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. They're taking on the Celtics, winners of two of the last three Eastern Conference titles, and they're on the road in front of a capacity TD Garden crowd.
Last spring, LeBron's season ended with a loss at the Garden. So, too, did Wade's, one round earlier. Both superstars will be out for revenge, but to get it, they've got to overcome a Celtics team salivating at the chance to take them down.